Open Wounds

Open wounds can occur during sports, physical games and other physical activities. The topic of open wounds is included in school PE (physical education) lessons in the sports injuries module for GCSE.
Pupils learn about soft tissue injuries, incl. both open wounds and closed wounds, and about hard tissue injuries such as broken bones, incl. some types of bone fractures.

Open wounds vary in severity from minor injuries e.g. a slightly scaped knee or elbow, to severe life-threatening injuries. In general open wounds can involve:

  • damage to skin (at a minimum as the skin must be broken in order for the wound to be classed as 'open')
  • damage muscles
  • damage to tendons
  • damage to ligaments

Symptoms vary but in general open wounds can result in:

  • pain (e.g. a 'stinging' pain where the skin has been broken, especially if over a large area)
  • heat
  • swelling / inflammation of underlying tissues,
    and sometimes
  • reduction in or loss of function of the affected part of the body - especially in severe cases e.g. involving avulsions or severed limbs.

Not all of these symptoms apply in every case. The only symptom that always applies to open wounds is that at least some layers of skin have been damaged.

What is an open wound ?

What is the definition of an open wound ?

Definition of an 'open wound' :

An open wound is an injury, that is damage to some of the structure/s of the body, in which blood is released from inside the body through broken layers of skin and possibly other tissues.

That is, the difference between open wounds and closed wounds is that open wounds allow blood to leave the body whereas closed wounds do not involve any external bleeding, although there may be bleeding under the skin, which is called a bruise.

Open wounds are usually discussed as part of the soft tissue injuries topic in GCSE PE but some hard tissue injuries (i.e. damaged bones, incl. broken bones) can also be open wounds, e.g. compound fractures, sometimes called 'open fractures'.

Common Types of Open Wounds

Descriptions and examples of possible causes and treatments of common open soft tissue injuries follow in the table below:

Type of Open Wound


Possible causes:

Contact with hard and/or sharp objects or surfaces, especially with considerable force e.g. impact against sharp object at speed.


Bleeding from shallow to very deep wounds.

Typical treatments (First Aid Training required):

Minor cuts: Clean area.
Pressure applied to immediate area / raising the affected area (to stop bleeding)

Deep cuts / puncture wounds: May require urgent medical attention in case of damage to internal structures within the body.

Grazes / Abrasion

Possible causes:

Contact with hard and often rough objects or (more usually) surfaces e.g. tarmac or gravel - especially if with force e.g. impact at speed.


Bleeding from shallow wounds.

Typical treatments (First Aid Training required):

Clean area. Pressure applied to immediate area / raising the affected area (to stop bleeding).


Possible causes:

Rubbing of skin against hard surface e.g. ill-fitting footwear.


Blisters (in general) can be 'open' or 'closed'.

Blisters are classed as 'open wounds' when they have broken e.g. due to on-going friction from the surface that caused the blister to form initially - with the result that the fluid that previously filled the blister is released and the 'raw skin' at the inner-surface of the blister exposed.

Typical treatments (First Aid Training required):

Clean the area. Apply antiseptic. Cover the affected area with sterile dressing to protect it from infection.


Possible causes:

Badly fitting clothing / garments causing excessive friction against the skin.


Reddened, 'raw-looking', uncomfortable skin.

Typical treatments (First Aid Training required):

Remove cause of irritation (e.g.ill-fitting garments to be changed for something more appropriate). Apply antiseptic cream.

The above list of open wounds is intended for approximately GCSE PE level (a UK qualification for 15-16 year olds taking games lessons at school). The level of detail included here is not sufficient for more advanced courses in e.g. nursing and therapies. Note that sports players and coaches are not usually qualified to diagnose injuries medically. Knowledge of basic First Aid and the type of treatments to expect for certain types of injuries is helpful but any non-trivial injuries should be checked and treated by an appropriately qualified person.

Other types of open wounds include puncture wounds, incisions, lacerations, impaled objects, avulsions, deglovings and amputations (e.g. due to accidents involving machinery).

This is the end of the page about open wounds for GCSE Physical Education (GCSE PE). See also other pages in this section listed top-right and the effects of exercise on muscles and the effects of exercise on circulation.

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